What do genital warts look like?
Genital warts look like small, flesh coloured lumps that grow around the genital area or the anus. Genital warts are a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI). STIs are passed on through sexual contact but not through actions like kissing or hugging.
Genital warts are not normally harmful to your health, but you may feel uncomfortable about having them. They are very common and can affect you whether you’re a man or woman.
What are genital warts?
Genital warts are small growths caused by a virus called the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 different types of HPV. Some are high risk strains and can increase your risk of developing certain cancers - like cervical cancer. The types of HPV that cause genital warts are low risk. These are not the same as the ones that cause cervical cancer.
HPV can spread between you and your partner when you have close sexual contact, such as vaginal sex, anal sex or less commonly, oral sex. It’s particularly common if you are a young adult and are sexually active.
After being infected with the virus, it can take a long time for visible warts to develop. You may carry the virus without realising it as HPV does not always cause warts to develop. You can however pass the virus on to a sexual partner who may go on to develop genital warts.
Where do genital warts appear?
Genital warts can appear anywhere in the genital or anal area. This is usually on the external parts of your genitals but they can grow inside the vagina or anus.
If you have genital warts it’s best to get treated first before you have sex, otherwise you can pass it on to your partner.
Female genital warts
Female genital warts can appear anywhere around the female genitalia. They usually appear on the vulva, which is the area outside the vagina. Genital warts in this area usually feel soft as the vulva is warm and moist.
Genital warts can also appear around the anus or inside the anus. The skin around your anus is usually drier, so warts in this area may feel hard. If you have warts that grow inside your vagina or on the cervix you may need a doctor to do an internal examination.
Male genital warts
Male genital warts typically appear on the outside of the penis. You may also notice them on the scrotum (the skin that covers the testicles). Genital warts in men can also develop around or inside the anus.
Sometimes, genital warts develop in the urethra. If this happens, you might notice that you are peeing sideways. Your doctor or sexual health clinic may recommend a physical examination to determine where the warts are developing.
What do genital warts look like when they first appear?
When they first appear, genital warts often look like small, flesh coloured lumps. You may only notice a single lump. Over time, more lumps may appear. They can spread out or look like they have joined together to form a cauliflower-like growth.
Sometimes genital warts go away on their own as your body will fight the HPV infection. If you want to get treatment to speed up recovery, there are a few options you can try.
Treatment options for genital warts include creams like Aldara or Warticon, or a solution like Condyline. These treatments strengthen your immune system to fight the virus and can kill off the wart cells to stop the spread of the virus.
If topical treatments do not work, or if the warts are large or in a sensitive area, your doctor may offer surgery to remove them or cryotherapy to freeze the warts off your skin.
You should not use over the counter wart treatment from a pharmacy as they are not suitable for treating genital warts.
What do genital warts feel like?
Sometimes genital warts can feel soft or hard, depending on the natural state of your skin in the area that’s affected.
Some other symptoms of genital warts can include feeling itchy, uncomfortable, or having some bleeding. You may find sex uncomfortable especially if the genital wart clusters are quite big. If warts develop inside your genitals, you may pee in a different direction, such as sideways rather than straight down. This is because warts have grown near your urethra (the tube that empties the bladder).
Dr Kathryn Basford
Dr Kathryn Basford is a qualified GP who works as a GP in London, as well as with ZAVA. She graduated from the University of Manchester and completed her GP training through Whipps Cross Hospital in London.Meet our doctors
Last reviewed: 26 Apr 2022
Genital warts, NHS [accessed January 2022]
Anogenital Warts (Patient) [Mar 2018] [accessed Jan 2022]
Anogenital Warts (Patient - Professional) [Oct 2021] [accessed Jan 2022]
British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) [April 2015] [accessed March 2022]
Electronic Medicines Compendium (EMC) [Dec 2021] [accessed March 2022]
(Reviews are for ZAVA UK)